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Issue 242 [11.23]
Issue 241 [07.11]
Issue 240 [06.01]
Issue 239 [03.21]
Issue 238 [01.26]
Tae Guk Gi and Stars & Stripes
Six Pary Talks
Asian Peace Philosophy
☞ Issue 241
Planning on changes for the better Korean Americans needed for the work of unification
Moon J. Pak
Planning on changes for the better
Korean Americans needed for the work of unification
By Moon J. Pak
This year marks the 70 years since the division of the Korean peninsula; 62 years since the armistice in Korean peninsula; and 15 years since the initiation of the process of reconciliation between the two Koreas. It is amazing to note that in this time span, which encompasses almost two generations, the country is still divided, maintains hostilities between the two halves, and actually the chance of another conflict that would quickly devastate both halves is currently at an all-time high.
History shows that the absurdity of the situation is only partially due to the idiocy of the Korean people. There is plenty of idiocy to go around. The division was brought about by the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the end of the World War II. The Korean War that resulted was a war of proxy fought between the south and north as part of the cold war. The real Korean effort for the reconciliation began in 2000, but has never received meaningful support by the U.S.
We can also blame, at least in part, the geopolitical location of Korea for the current absurd predicament. Since the U.S. is still a major player, And needless to say, the major player is the United States and, there lies the significance of the potential influence of Korean Americans on the U.S. foreign policy on Korea.
The number of Korea Americans with full U.S. citizenship is variously estimated to be between 1.5 to two million, and its demographic composition is rapidly changing. The second generation is increasing rapidly. This group is more Americanized than their parents’ generation, and highly educated, due to the traditional emphasis Koreans place on children’s education. The implication of this is potential for the second generation to wield a stronger political influence in our society, especially in its foreign policy decisions as they affect the Korea peninsula.
One of the sad commentaries on Korean American society however, is the fact that there is a lack of cohesiveness in the political orientation of its members. Even in the notion of providing humanitarian aid to North Korea, there is no unanimity of action. There is a significant dilution of effectiveness of this influence as a result.
Therefore, it would be a useful effort to set up target areas of political action for Korean Americans, try to prioritize them.
Humanitarian aid to North Korea is currently quite urgent. Their government has announced that the country is experiencing a drought this year, which is expected to have severe effects. A food shortage disaster, like the period in the ‘90s, that North Koreans call “The Arduous March,” could be the result. An estimated 300 million tons of food aid maybe needed; South Korea and U.S. may need to be prepared.
In addition, a variety of malnutrition-related conditions could increase. Right now, multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is rampant and people’s average life span is at least 10 to 15 years shorter than the South Korean average.
The level of tension in the current military is almost beyond imagination. There are about 1.7 million armed personnel in a land about the size of the lower half of Michigan, out of a total population of 72 million. There are excessive missile and artillery forces on both sides, which could annihilate each other within a couple of weeks. Likewise, the nuclear arms on both sides could pulverize not only the peninsula but also the neighboring countries with deadly radioactivity.
The defense budget of North Korea is about 30 percent of its total GDP, the highest percentage of any country. Under these perilous conditions, the U.S. and South Korea conduct joint military maneuvers annually, in an area of the West Sea which is in disputed maritime territory.
The Korean War ended in 1953, 62 long years ago, when U.S. and North Korea signed an armistice treaty at a small village in the Demilitarized Zone called Panmunjom. This was to be followed by a peace treaty within three months at Geneva, Switzerland. This treaty never did materialize, due mainly to the refusal of the U.S., and in spite of the continued and persistent requests by the North Korea, to this date.
Therefore, the Korean War had never formally ended and the current situation in the peninsula can best be described as an armistice, or cessation of hostilities, without further diplomatic action.
Contrary to the common perception by the American public, North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)) is going through political and economic metamorphoses under the leadership of its young leader Jong-un Kim. As he consolidates his leadership and solidifies country’s defense posture, including its nuclear weapons system, what the North Koreans call “nuclear deterrence.” North Korea is using various kinds of weapons miniaturization, sophistication of delivery modalities, including submarine launching.
He has announced that there will be an emphasis on the country’s economic development, a policy called “Parallel Progression.” In the area of agriculture, for example, incorporation of some limited incentives resulted in an improvement in productivity. A series of economic exchange zones have been planned, and the DPRK has instituted and at least limited privatization and capitalization of its manufacturing industry.
North Koreans have an ardent desire to restore peaceful international relations with U.S. This was shown recently again, when North Korea offered to cease nuclear testing if the U.S. and South Korea would halt their joint military maneuvers. This offer was ignored by the U.S. however.
It is now up to Korean Americans to point out to the Obama Administration the obvious failure of its North Korea policy, termed “Strategy of Patience.” The DPRK will not collapse due to sanctions or because of a policy of isolation. Cuba has also been subject to trade sanctions and isolation, and neither the DPRK or Cuba has fallen.
On June 15, 2000, when South Korea’s President Dae-jung Kim and North Korean Leader Jong-il Kim met in Pyongyang, followed by another summit meeting between South Korean President Moo-hyun Ro and Jong-il Kim in 2007, the two Koreas were at the verge of a peaceful re-unification.
Unfortunately, these two progressive regimes were followed by two consecutive conservative governments in the South, first one led by Myung-bak Lee followed by the current one led by Geun-hye Park, a presidency that was the result of a framed election.
Regime change in South Korea is essential in the year 2017 (Change Essential in 2017 Korean Quarterly, spring 2014). Can Korean Americans play a role to swing the tide to a more progressive government by influencing this crucial South Korean political event?
The announcement by the Obama Administration in March this year that it is to restore normal diplomatic relations with Cuba after 50 years of enmity awakened Korean Americans; why not do the same with North Korea after 70 years of isolation. The result was a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on March 14, entitled An Open Letter to President Obama (An Open Letter to President Obama, Korean Quarterly, spring 2015).
This was followed by a series of activities by a progressive group of Korean Americans designed to urge a collection of concerned American politicians, scholars, and former diplomats to visit Pyongyang to meet and have a dialogue with North Korean officials.
There are political action tasks needed on many fronts that Korean Americans could do; humanitarian aid projects, reduction in military confrontation, promotion for the U.S.-NK peace treaty, improving understanding of the DPRK and its society, and finally ensuring regime change in the South in 2017. To work effectively on these issues, Korean Americans must overcome the differences in political ideology, a 70-year-old animosity between the north and south, and a generational and cultural gap. Korean Americans must also stay neutral on matters pertaining to very different political ideologies between the DPRK and ROK (Republic of Korea), and remember that getting to practical sustainable action matters, and rhetoric can be counterproductive.
There is also a lot being done for the cause by Korean Americans right now. In the past year, a dizzying array of events took place among Korean Americans, contributing enormously to the peace and unification of the peninsula. One such effort was a consolidation of progressive Korean Americans under the 6-15 Committee, due to the efforts of Kilsang Yoon and Pil-young Shin. Recent efforts also include the WomenCrossDMZ march, headed up by Christine Ahn, which brought together women peace activists to cross the DMZ and attend peace events in locations both north and south of the DMZ.
There have been various other events, including the Joint Medical Symposium in Pyongyang, led by Dr. Kee-bum Park, Talk-Concerts on Life in North Korea by Prof. Eun-mi Shin, and an In-depth Interview Series on Academics of North Korea” by Dr. Kil-nam Roh.
The Open Letter to President Obama advertisement was a collaborative effort by contributions of more than 300 Korean Americans. Another significant media resource, Korean Quarterly, is only English language public media providing a voice for Korean Americans, also supported by a collaborative effort of Korean Americans, including first and second generation Korean Americans, and Korean adoptees and their families.
These significant activities by individuals and groups, selflessly and tirelessly supporting unification one step at a time, deserve recognition by all Korean Americans.
(Korean Quarterly, Summer, 2015)
Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior VP, KANCC (Korean American National Coordinating Council)
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